The Calculated Creative

Themes in 1980's Graphic Design

1980s design embraced vibrancy and experimentation in reaction to previous minimalism. The eclectic combination of retro, punk, and postmodern ideas created an influential aesthetic that still resonates in design today.

The 1980s was a vibrant decade for graphic design that saw many new styles emerge.

As designers broke away from the minimalism of previous eras.

Dynamic, eclectic aesthetics drew from both historical and contemporary influences.

To create innovative work.

Memphis Design

The Memphis Group was founded by designer Ettore Sottsass in Milan in the early 1980s.

Memphis design was characterized by bold geometric shapes, asymmetrical compositions, and bright colors like purple, yellow, black, and red.

The eclectic, kitschy postmodern style combined elements of Pop Art, Cubism, and Art Deco.

Memphis designers such as:
- Sottsass
- Martine Bedin
- Michele de Lucchi

Created furniture, textiles, ceramics, and graphics with a spirit of irreverence.

Their work for brands like Swatch, Alessi, and Apple had a huge international influence.

The postmodern Memphis style rejected minimalism.

And embraced vibrancy, humor, and new materials like plastic laminates.

Retro/Vintage Design

Nostalgia for bygone eras influenced graphic design in the 1980s.

Retro styling referencing the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s was seen in logos, packaging, posters, and media.

Vintage typography like Art Deco and circus/carnival fonts and motifs evoked a sense of familiarity.

Sepia color tones, faded imagery, and period illustrations provided a warm, aged aesthetic.

Branding and advertising campaigns embraced this retro nostalgia to connect to consumer sentiments.

Classic Coke revived the 1920s Spencerian script logo in the "Catch the Wave" ads.

Cerwin Vega audio ads featured vintage pin-up girls and hot rod art.

Retro design provided comfort and familiarity during a fast-changing, technology-driven decade.


Maximalism in the 1980s embraced complexity and density in design.

The decade's bold consumerism and excess was reflected in exuberant colors, patterns, textures, and layers.

After the stripped down qualities of mid-century modernism, this new maximalist mode felt energizing.

Geometric shapes, overlapping graphics, and multiple typefaces created dynamic, complex compositions.

Graffiti art and the creative anarchy of punk/DIY zines influenced this collage-like aesthetic.

Maximalism appeared in posters, book covers, advertisements, and fashion as visual excitement took precedence over order.

New Wave Graphics

Growing out of the punk culture, New Wave graphic design also embraced intense color, dynamism, and visual excitement.

Hand drawn, raw typography and photocopied aesthetics echoed the youthful rebellion of bands like Blondie, Talking Heads, and The Clash.

New Wave graphics were seen on punk-inspired zines, show flyers, and album covers for 70s and 80s bands.

Design collectives like Hipgnosis gave their rock album work an energetic, surrealist style.

The unpolished, do-it-yourself look blended styles from Pop Art, graffiti, and signpainting traditions for a fresh, exuberant aesthetic.

Post-Modern Design

Postmodern graphic design in the 1980s played with different styles and references.

By mixing various fonts, historical motifs, isms, and approaches, designers like Neville Brody and Wolfgang Weingart pioneered new irreverent styles.

British designer Brody combined Swiss modernist principles with punk rock energy.

His record covers and magazine spreads used vibrant typography, layered photography and graffiti codes.

Weingart's experimental typography broke conventions using distorted letterforms, mixed fonts, and overlapping words.

Postmodern design studio 8vo's logos playfully mixed typography from different eras.

Wolff Olins' branding removed corporate stiffness by using wit and bold graphics.

By breaking modernist rules, postmodern design found new, humanistic ways to communicate.

The Takeaway

1980s design embraced vibrancy and experimentation in reaction to previous minimalism.

The eclectic combination of retro, punk, and postmodern ideas created an influential aesthetic that still resonates in design today.

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